Waldlaw Blog

Friday, October 04, 2013

Governor Brown Signs Multi-Parent Bill

Just a few minutes ago, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that I have worked on for the past two years, alongside the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law.  The bill, SB 274, will allow California courts to protect children who have established relationships with more than two parents from arbitrarily losing the love and support they rely on.

Here is a typical case where this bill will make a difference:  a married couple has a child.  They break up when the child is very young, and in the divorce the mother is awarded full physical and legal custody of the child.  The father is only minimally involved in the child's life from that point forward -- but he does pay some child support, and visits with the child on special occasions.  In the meantime, the woman becomes involved with another man but -- having been through a divorce once already and hated the experience, and not wanting to jeopardize the financial support she and the child are receiving from the child's father -- she and her new partner never marry. 

The new partner -- lets call him Frank -- assumes a parenting role for the child and as the years pass he becomes the child's primary parental figure.  He puts her to bed every night after he gets home from work and they spend hours together every weekend, going for hikes and playing catch and reading books.  Frank introduces the child to everyone as his daughter and she comes to know his parents as her grandparents.  The child looks to Frank for the love and support and stability that children need from their parents. 

Mom gradually comes to resent how close the child and Frank have become and, after the three have lived together as a family for 4 years, she breaks up with Frank.  Frank does everything he can to convince her to honor the relationship Frank has established with the child, but she responds that the child has a mother and a father and they don't need Frank any more.  She cuts off all contact between Frank and the child.

Until today, many family law courts in California would have said that there was nothing they could do to protect this child's relationship with Frank.  Even though Frank clearly would qualify as a "presumed parent" under current California law -- because he received the child into his home and openly held her out to others as his daughter -- the "mother" and "father" slots both were already filled.  Since Frank and the child's mother never married, Frank is not a stepfather -- so without SB 274, he is legally a stranger to this child, no matter how tightly bonded they are. 

But now, a court can take a long look at situations like the one described above and make a determination whether it would be detrimental to this child to lose her bonded parent-child relationship with Frank and, if the court determines that it would be, the court can recognize this child's mother, father and Frank all as legal parents.

Today is a great day for California's children and the people who love them.